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How much it costs to design a professional website and selecting the right web design company

On August 19, 2013

Guide to getting a professional website designed at the right price.

If you are a business or organization looking to make a logical cost decision about creating or improving your website, this article is for you.  So before you invest in hiring a design company or creating one yourself take ten minutes and read this post and I’m confident it will at least help you make a wiser decision; one that is fit for your budget and your business needs.   I’m going to dissect things down to the nuts and bolts in laymen terms on how much you should invest in your website and how much you can actually afford to spend.

Let’s take a look back because times sure have changed
Just a little over ten years ago most businesses did not see a website as anything more than a means to supplement an existing marketing plan.  Most depended on a range of offline marketing avenues that included but not limited to print advertising such as newspaper or magazine ads, the yellow pages, mass mailings such as Valpak, radio spots and tv ads.    

But with the onset and the explosive growth of internet search thanks to Yahoo and then Google, the means to market a business was taken by storm and fast forward to today, if you don’t have a web presence you are virtually irrelevant.  Why?  Because believe it or not a website can serve as an important intersection where your business meets your target audience and influence their decision making process which can reflect who will or will not be your next potential lead and likely your next client or customer.  

Even if you do active advertising in other forms; your consumers are smarter than you think.  They know they have access to a huge repository of information online.   Chances are before you got your last order or your last lead, they first did their research online by searching for your company name on Google, Yahoo or Bing.   As a result it is safe to assume that if your web presence is lagging and your website maybe in need of improvements to increase your conversion rate of sales or further enhance your brand over your competitors.

Here are 10 key points to help you through in determining a direction for your web presence, a budget for your website:

1. Today it’s not just about having a “website”
We are at the second phase of the evolution of a web presence.  Phase I was simply about having a website, but given most businesses have some level of web presence today, we have now chartered to new territory: Phase II where it’s no longer about just having another website but having one that works for your business; one that connects with your audience. 

The fact is, just having a website will not make a noticeable improvement or support your business growth.  It has to be relevant, reflect your brand, be easy to use and capture the essence of your audience and compete or stand above your competitors.

Just take a few minutes and browse through the websites of a few of your competitors. Does one stand above the crowd?  From a user standpoint if they are looking at a few companies to consider doing business with,  they will consider the presence that best connects with them, gives them the information they need in an easy to navigate and understand format and convinces them it is the more established or professional business to consider doing business with.

There is a good article that covers the importance of having a professional web presence versus just another website

2. Should I Build it on my own or Have a professional do it?
Up to about few years ago if you wanted to have a website you had to hire a professional to design it for you.  A website can be a complex system.  All the images and text that you see on your screen are actually generated from tens if not hundreds of lines of HTML code and style sheets that are rendered into logical easy to understand visual representations you see as a web page. 

With the emergence of cloud based website builder software even a novice can create, populate and publish their websites with virtually no programming experience in a matter of hours.   An example of this is Easy WebContent’s Site Builder.   For as little as $10/month you can build your own website and manage it yourself (which includes web hosting).

Or you can hire a professional to do it for you and in that case you need to be prepared to invest a lot more (more on that below and which is the best option for you).  So then why do you even need to consider hiring a web designer in the first place if you can do it yourself for nothing?   The answer is simple: Time and importantly expertise.

You see even though such applications simplify the content creation process (in this case creating a website), it doesn’t mean that the end result will be the most professional web presence that would stand over your competitors.   If your goal is just to have a quick simple website and you have no concerns about having a site that will best portray your organization then using a Site Builder will be a good starting point for you.

However most businesses decide against this and for most it’s for the right reasons.  Just like when it comes to hiring a professional contractor or architect to design a storefront and you rely and work with them for the best presence that will portray your products and/or organization versus doing it on your own, you need to also understand that the same principals apply to your website which will likely be your most important marketing presence. 

3. You get what you pay for (and sometimes you don’t)
We have all heard this statement “You get what you pay for”.  When it comes to the world of hiring a web design company that also holds true; almost.  

As with any business there are some bad apples out there.  For example since 2002 at HindSite Interactive we have designed hundreds of custom websites for various clients of all walks of life.   And at least a few times a month we hear from a business owner who contacts us out of frustration on how they are so unhappy with their existing web design company.  Often there are complaints of designers bailing out on them, or not being able to come up with the right site layout and last but not least poor communication and customer service.

We don’t believe that is because their designer is trying to do harm or purposefully use bad business practices; but it may likely be contributed to a poor design strategy, not enough experience, or perhaps having a bit of an ego of trying to force their ideas to the client instead of opening up to the core needs of the client.   We know this because we used to make some of the same mistakes back in the day and we learned from them.   So when it comes to selecting a design agency you want to consider some important points covered in more detail below.

4. Should I hire a freelancer or web design agency?
Part of this may depend on your preferences and what your needs are.  If you are looking for quality and all around expertise, you are more likely to have your needs fulfilled with a web design agency over a freelancer.  With an agency you are depending on years of experience and know how of a team with support and assets of a company behind them.  

In case of a Freelancer, you may likely pay less per hour but that does not mean the project will cost less.  The reason is a Freelancer is one individual and naturally he or she has a limited set of skills (they may be great at say front-end design but may lack the experience needed for programming, development, search engine optimization or vise versa).  The lack of well rounded experience in both front-end (design) and back-end (function) could cost you dearly long term.  Too often we have seen businesses shed thousands of dollars on a website by inexperienced designers only to have to go through the process all over again.
 

5. How do you determine which designer is the best fit for you?
There are a few basic rules that can help you to fairly quickly determine if a web designer / agency is going to be the right fit for you.   This is not to say by following these recommendations you will be guaranteed the best company for you, but it will at the very least give you a great starting point to qualify your options down to just a few.

Don’t search for the price first
Think about it.  When you go to purchase other goods or services do you first look at the price tag before you look at the quality of the product?  Likely not.  If I walk to a store looking for a Coat, I don’t go checking the price tags to find the lowest cost item before I look at the one I like; instead I will first find what suits my needs and then filter down with the pricing.  You want to apply the same principles to finding a suitable design agency.

Look at the portfolio
The work should speak for itself.  One of the quickest ways to filter your selection process is to view the portfolio of the designers you are considering.  Pretty much every designer will have a portfolio area on their website showcasing some of their top and recent work. 

Pay attention to their work. Some of the key elements you want to look for are flexibility, variation and quality of work.  For example if the portfolio contains only a few poor examples of work or most of the projects look very similar in design and layout to each other, then this may not be the designer for you.   Some designers often resort to pre-made templates or have limited experience to create websites that are geared to each client’s unique branding and audience needs and in such cases how do you expect them to work closely with you to custom design your web presence given your needs are unique to another business?

Additionally don’t be too concerned if the company has not done a website in the exact industry as your business.  Instead look for variety of work; if you see a range of work in a number of industries or different types of websites then it is likely they have the experience to create something unique for you.

Expertise and experience
Is the design company just starting out?  If so perhaps it’s best you don’t become their guinea pig.  Let someone else take the fall.   I myself started our design firm out of college and a little over a decade later I can testify to the fact that there is a tremendous difference between having worked with a few clients or with hundreds in various industries.   So do a little digging and learn about the firm and its true capabilities; in short not what they say on their site but whether their work and testimonials supports those assumptions.

Check for testimonials
Testimonials establish prestige for a company;  they are an assessment and proof a business is dedicated to ensuring the satisfaction of their clientele.  However take caution in reviewing onsite testimonials. 

Make sure you see more than a few testimonials and that they are from real clients; clients you can also find in their portfolio of work.  Additionally don’t be afraid to ask for a couple references later in the stage of your decision making process.  Talking to an actual client the company has worked with helps to further ensure the company’s reputation.
look for

Talk to your contact
Set-up an introductory call; get him/her on the phone and ask a few questions and gauge the level of expertise and understand your needs.  If they feel right then it’s worth taking a closer look and consider the company as one of your options.

Use your intuition
At the end of the day when you have done your research, reviewed testimonials and found a company that seems to reflect your needs, use your intuition.  If it feels right it’ worth considering them for the job.

And please don’t take this article as a means to convince you HindSite Interactive is the best fit for you.  We likely maybe and perhaps we may not; no hard feelings.

6. Factors that can affect your project cost:
The cost of a project is heavily affected by the scope of work of your project.  A few factors that will weigh on the project cost are:

Size of your site:   If you are looking for a small website with 4-6 informational pages of content it will naturally entail much less work than a site with more pages. 

Functionality:   The more features you add to your website the more expensive it will be.   Many dynamic functionality such as e-commerce, CMS (content management system), Intranets and interactivity can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to total project cost.

In some cases certain features may already be included in a project (such as a CMS to manage your site’s content) nonetheless the moment you begin to customize or add other features the cost can go up. 

Interactivity:  Integration of motion graphics such as explainer videos, short animations, product demos and sliding content require additional design time and in turn more costs to you.

7. Web design costs can vary heavily
As with any service expect to find a large variation in pricing but don’t fall for the lowest price if it is too far off from other quotes.  

As always take caution with pricing that seems too good to be true.  Let me give you an example.  You have likely seen the TV commercials for a website company (if you’re wondering which, it has the words web and .com in it) which states in their advertisements about getting a custom website designed for free and only pay $29.95/month after that and to put icing on the cake, get your site submitted to hundreds of search engines as a part of the package.

Every web designer who does this professionally laughs at this assumption.  Creating a custom website from the discovery, layout design and approval process, content population and any special functionality, browser testing and finalization requires at the very least 25 or more man hours of work (much more for larger sites).  It’s simply not logical to get this service free from any professional designer.  And the “submit to hundreds of search engines” is just a selling point; talk to any SEO expert and they’ll tell such automated submissions won’t do much for your site.  So watch out for quotes that make promises that are too good to be true.

8. Pick your budget accordingly
At the end of the day you have to look at your business and your budget.  In fact often we ask our clients what is the budget they like to dedicate to their project; and before this is answered we note to the prospect when selecting a budget think of your web presence as not only the most important marketing piece to your operation but also one that will be with you for the next 3-4 years. 

When thinking realistically in a long-term manner you will be surprised to see that your initial budget is comfortably increased to help support your business needs often by as much as 200-300%.  

9. How do I determine the budget of my website?
Naturally we all like a good deal and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you have a reasonable budget.  The reality is a good web presence requires time and work and the lower you set the budget the lower you are setting the bar for quality work and service.

You would want to set a budget for your project before you contact for a quote.  Here are some guidelines and factors that can affect the cost of your project:

Number of Pages:  The more pages you have the more labor involved in setting up the pages and populate them with appropriate content and renderings.  Be wary of agencies that bill on a per page basis or flat fees.   This often indicates heavy restrictions where at first the flat pricing seems like a great deal, however on any adjustment or new features and pages you will be billed by the designer and before you know it you may have spent more than you expected for project cost.

Level of Design:  Design matters and the level of customization and complexity of your site design and formatting requirements can greatly affect the price.  

Features and functionality:  This can greatly affect the project and scope of project.
For example if you want a CMS (Content Management System), intranet or login areas, administrative area, Responsive layout (web/mobile friendly content rendering), and e-commerce to name a few be prepared to start your project cost at no less than $3,000.00

Tip: In all the years I have been involved in bidding and creating proposals for web projects and the feedback from prospects (whether they become a client or not) there is one thing that never ceases to surprise me:

You could put the same project scope in front of multiple web agencies and you will get price ranges from a few thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.  That’s a huge variation.
If your requirements are not laid out in a specific manner this can contribute to the price variation since one agency will interpret it differently.

If you get a myriad of price ranges, throw out the price that is unreasonably lower than the others because most likely they missed or under-calculated the project scope.  At same time if you get a price much higher than others ask the agency for further clarification.
 

10. How much should I be willing to invest on my website and cost to maintain it?
As I noted earlier you are the key to your budget.  What you decide to include in your website requirements, your financial and your goals set the tone for your budget.  In this case I’m giving an estimate based on experience; don’t hold me to it!

At HindSite Interactive we have created small business sites for as little as $2,000-$3,000 and larger sites that have cost 10-20 times that.  Every project is different and is geared to meet that client's needs including their budget, and their project needs. 

If you are a start-up with no funding and need nothing more than an informational website, then a budget of $1500 - $3000 is fair for a small custom website. 

If you are an established company with reasonable revenues and a small marketing budget, a good rule of thumb is about 1-1.5% of a year’s revenues be set aside for the web presence.  Why?  Let’s assume $500,000 in revenues; this in turn equates to $5,000 to $7,500 budget.     And a $2 million revenue company equates to about $20,000 - $35,000

Naturally the percent allocation provided is mostly a one time cost; since the goal of a properly designed website is a multi year investment and thus you should not expect to incur more than a 0.25 - 0.5% fees in support and maintenance.  

Of course if your business is going to be primarily online based, you will need to dedicate a larger budget as you will have more specific needs.   And at some point 1-1.5% rule can decrease with higher revenue companies.  Take it as a basic rule of thumb.

The recommended rates above are also considering website hosting and maintenance fees which can equates to little as few hundreds dollars per year and up.    The estimates also do not account for additional services you may want such as further expansion/scaling of the web presence and search engine marketing and organization.

These are reasonable costs for custom web design services;  Lower and you’ll likely be hiring a freelancer or an offshore company which many have learned the hard way on the quality of work delivered specially when it comes to design.

If you do not have the budgets noted above that is no more than $1500, then you should consider building one on your own.

What’s the next step?
Before you contact design firms to book your web project, first take a little time and evaluate your business needs. Spend a little time and navigate through your competitor sites and take notes on what you like and don’t like.  Additionally create draft of your site’s pages which can be a simple bullet list of the pages and sub-pages you may want to include on your web presence.  You also want to consider the features you need on your site; for example do you want to manage your content on your own?  Need a login area for registered users?  Need to sell products online?  If so make sure to include them in the list. 

Once you have done this basic leg work, it’s time to reach out to a few web designers and provide the document and request a quote.   And then follow through with the recommendations I made above to start your selection process. 

I hope this information helps you through with selecting the best partner and guides you through making informed decision on one your most important marketing tools you will have at your disposal; Your Website.

Last but not least Good Luck and feel free to reach out to me if any questions.  Just send an email to sales at hindsiteinc.com  and make sure to note to have your inquiry forwarded to me.  



About the Author: Payman Taei is the Founder of HindSite Interactive (he doesn't like using the word "CEO" it's way too Formal), an award winning web design and web development company. He's also the Founder of Easy WebContent, a cloud based Do It Yourself platform allowing everyone to easily create, manage professional websites, presentations & infographics.